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Machshavot HaRav: Reflections from Rabbi Waxman


Mourning Losses and Cherishing Friendships


In the course of a little more than 2 weeks, Sarrae and I have found ourselves repeatedly saying kaddish to mark yahrzeits. Beginning with her father’s yahrzeit, on August 17th, continuing with my father’s on the 20th, followed this week on Monday for Sarrae’s sister Barbara, who died 53 years ago, continuing with her mother’s yahrzeit which is marked today, the marathon will conclude tomorrow as I mark the yahrzeit of my aunt, my father’s sister, on Shabbat. It is difficult to deal with this slew of sad anniversaries in such a short time. (And it is fortunate I bought a dozen yahrzeit candles at Passover, when they were on sale.) Moreover, Sarrae has undertaken the task of daily saying kaddish for her uncle who passed away a few weeks ago, and who had no children. And this Sunday the extended Gartzman clan will gather at the cemetery for a memorial service for him.


But we mourn not only family members. The reality of that was highlighted yesterday when I drove to Beth David in Elmont for the burial of a colleague. The funeral had been in Philadelphia and hence other than the family and the funeral director, none had made the trip to Long Island. However, they were met by 2 dozen plus New Yorkers, including several rabbis, who assembled at the cemetery as a mark of respect, for someone who I had known for over half a century, and with whom I had been in periodic touch. What was particularly noteworthy were the large number of tributes to him on Ravnet , although  my colleague had never been part of our organization’s leadership. Moreover, the number of rabbis who signed on to watch the funeral on Zoom was impressive: I counted at least 30 and that included colleagues from Israel, as well as from the West Coast, despite the early hour---9:30 am here; 6:30 am in California. Clearly, Rabbi Barry Dov Lerner touched the lives of so many, because of the materials he shared, the kindnesses he tendered, and the friendships he developed over the decades..


But in the midst of these dour moments, we had the good fortune to have dinner with our friend, Rabbi Ron Hoffberg, who was in from Prague. And last week we attended a barbecue at the home of yet another colleague, in New Jersey. On hand were several New Jersey colleagues, some of whom I have not seen for years. Boy, have they gotten old! (They and others who have seen me recently say that I haven’t changed. They need better glasses: less hair and greyer, and even more sadly, more paunch.) But those realities aside, these encounters serve as a reminder of the value of relationships and of friendships. The Rabbis of old taught “Oh Chevrutah Oh Metutah: friendship or death.” A solitary existence, one bereft of companions, is to live with one foot in the grave.


Inevitably there will be more losses in our lives; but between now and then, let us cherish the relationships that we have. Go out to dinner; pick up the phone—and this is a charge to myself, as well—and call friends in far places. (The days of worrying what a long-distance call will cost are long past.) Connect and reconnect. Our lives will be enriched.


Shabbat shalom.


This is the current link for Friday night services at 8 p.m. Hope to see you on-line.


Saturday morning in the sanctuary at 10 a.m.






Chadashot MeYisrael: News >From Israel


Athletic Successes and Hopes for the 2024 Olympics


Next year, the summer Olympics will be held in Paris. And performances this summer by Israeli athletes suggest that Israel will garner more medals at the next games. (To date it has won 18 medals: 3 gold, 1 silver, and the rest bronze.)


In the Karate World Games, held in Hungary last week, the Israeli delegation returned home with 6 gold, 1 silver, and 4 bronze medals. Meanwhile, this past Sunday, also in Hungary, for the second time in a row marathoner Maru Teferi won a silver medal at the World Athletics Championships; he had also claimed 2nd place at last year’s Championships.


Israeli windsurfers also racked up medals. Adi Millo won a bronze at the U21 Windsurfing Championships held last week in Switzerland, while Shahar Tibi and Katy Spychakov won gold and silver medals, respectively, in the Allianz Sailing World Championships held in the Netherland, on August 19th.


And finally, also last week, Israel won its first-ever group all-around gold in the World Rhythmic Championships, thereby ensuring a spot in the Summer Olympics. Team Israel earned first place in the combined exercise final, while Daria Atmanov won a bronze medal for her individual performance. 


These performances provide high hopes for Israeli athletes at the 2024 Olympics.






Payrush LaParashah: A Comment on the Weekly Torah Portion


The portion of Key Tavoh (Deuteronomy 26:1-27:10) is read this Saturday, September 2nd. 


26:1 When you enter the land that the Lord your God is giving you as a heritage, and you possess it and settle in it, (2) you shall take some of every first fruit of the soil ,which you harvest from the land that the Lord your god is giving you, put it in a basket and go to the place where the Lord your God will choose to establish His name…(4)The priest shall take the basket from your hand and set it down in front of the altar of the Lord your god. (5) You shall then recite as follows before the Lord your God: “My father was a fugitive Aramean. He went down to Egypt with meager numbers and sojourned there, but he became a great and very populous nation. (6) The Egyptians dealt harshly with us and oppressed us; they imposed heavy labor upon us. (7) We cried to the Lord, the God of our fathers, and the Lord heard our plea and saw our plight, our misery, and our oppression. (8) The Lord freed us from Egypt by a mighty hand, by an outstretched arm and awesome power, and by signs and portents. (9) He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey…


If we were to ask the average readers of the Torah which passage should be selected to narrate the story of the Exodus, most likely they would suggest sections from the biblical book of Exodus. However, when the Passover Haggadah recounts that story, it chooses the farmer’s recitation from Parashat Ki Tavo, Deuteronomy 26:5-10…:


In this ritual, the farmer travels to the central sanctuary (in Jerusalem) bearing the first crops (bikkurim) from his spring harvest, whether vegetables, grain, or fruit, at the time of the Festival of Weeks (Shavuot). The farmer greets the priest and acknowledges that he has taken up residence in the land that was promised to their ancestors. The priest takes the crops that the farmer has brought, puts it before the altar, and the farmer recites this passage.


Where Is the Sinai/Horeb Theophany?


What is striking about this liturgical summary is that it completely omits any mention of the Theophany (the divine appearance) at Sinai, surely an essential part of the Exodus story and the shape of the Torah as a whole. It presents the narrative of the Exodus, from the enslavement in Egypt to the Settlement of Canaan, with a huge hole in the middle, the Theophany at Mt. Sinai.

Deuteronomy 26 is far from the only passage with this exclusion. In fact, other celebrated passages also do not mention the Theophany. The Song at the Sea of Reeds in Exodus 15, the great celebration after the Egyptians’ final defeat, also lacks any mention of the Theophany at Sinai when it recounts history from the Exodus from Egypt to the building of the Temple.

The Deuteronomic text that shows parents how to answer a child’s question about the Exodus also exhibits this same striking omission (Deuteronomy 6:20-25):…


When, in the future, your child asks you, “What is the meaning of the decrees, statutes, and laws that the LORD our God has commanded us?” you will say to your child, “We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, and the LORD took us out of there with a strong hand. The LORD performed before our eyes great and dangerous signs and portents against Pharaoh and his household. He took us out of there, so that he might take us and give us the land that he had promised to our fathers. Then the LORD commanded us to observe all these laws, to revere the LORD our God, for our own good and our own survival, as is now the case. It will be right for us before the LORD to observe faithfully all the commandments as he has commanded us.


This passage, a trigger for the unit of the Four Sons in the Passover Haggadah, omits the Theophany in the sample answer it provides for parents. If a Jewish educator today were to offer parents a sample answer to children’s questions about the Exodus, that educator would surely mention the Theophany at Sinai.


Why Is the Theophany Missing from These Passages?


This omission has inspired critical scholars to consider a number of possibilities about the tradition of the Theophany at Sinai.


1. A Late Addition

One suggestion has been that the original tradition of the Exodus did not include the Theophany and that only in the late First Temple or early Second Temple periods, when the Torah as we have it was in the process of being shaped, was the tradition about the Theophany at Sinai incorporated into the Exodus narrative. It was, therefore, a late and secondary addition to the Torah.


2. A Consequence of Combining Traditions

Other scholars have suggested that only some of the tribes had the Theophany as part of their tradition, and that only in the Late First Temple or early Second Temple periods, when Israelites groups, who had been living separately until that time, came together and combined their traditions did it become a standard part of Israelite historiography.


3. Separate Contexts

A third possibility is that the tradition of the liturgical recitations about the Exodus and the tradition about the Theophany at Sinai originated and were used in separate contexts. The two traditions were known to the same groups early on, but that they were used liturgically in different contexts. Thus, the bikkurim declaration does not reference the Theophany at Sinai because it was not relevant to that ritual, not because it was unknown.

It may also be that the two traditions were employed in different religious settings and for different religious purposes, and the reason why a number of the liturgical recitations about the Exodus omitted the mention of the Theophany at Sinai is that they retained the original shape of the ritual including the original words of the liturgy. The two traditions were integrated at some point, perhaps in the late First Temple period or early Second Temple periods, as evidenced by the overall shape of the book of Deuteronomy, a composition that recounts the Exodus and the Theophany at Sinai and devotes the bulk of its text to the revelation of law.


The biblical text offers explicit evidence for the bikkurim ritual, as evidenced by this week’s parasha. While there is no explicit evidence of a Theophany at Sinai ritual, we do have a number of texts that refer to a public ceremony of recitation of Scripture. (For example, Nehemiah 8 indicates that there were blessings, whatever those included, and a recitation of Scripture, whatever selection that might have been.) A ritual recitation about the Theophany might have originated in such a context.


Focusing Solely on God’s Actions


Whichever explanation one prefers, the tradition that recounts the Exodus and omits the Theophany emphasizes how God redeemed the Israelites through a formative period of history. It highlights what God did for the Israelites, freeing them from Egyptian bondage, leading them safely through the Wilderness, and settling them in the Land of Israel



This is similar to the famous (near) omission of Moses in the traditional Passover Haggadah, an absence that highlights God’s role in the Exodus. Both the Passover Haggadah and the parashah focus on God’s saving deeds without the interference of any mention of Moses or of the Theophany and its covenant requiring the Israelites to perform certain deeds. By focusing solely on God’s actions, they highlight God’s redemptive acts. (Professor Rabbi Pamela Barmash, “The Omission of the Sinai Theophany in the Bikkurim Declaration,”


Dr. Barmash was born in 1966 and earned her undergraduate degree from Yale. She was ordained by the Jewish Theological Seminary and received her doctorate from Harvard in 1999. For many years, she has served on the faculty of Washington University and currently is Professor of Hebrew Bible and Biblical Hebrew. She has written numerous articles and written or edited several books, including Homicide in the Biblical World—2005, Exodus in the Jewish Experience: Echoes and Reverberations –2015—co-edited with W. David Nelson, The Oxford Handbook of Biblical Law—2019--, The Laws of Hammurabi: At the Confluence of Royal and Scribal Tradition—2020—,and In the Shadow of Empire: Israel and Judah in the Long Sixth Century BCE—2021--. She has served on the Conservative Movement’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards and for the last several years has been co-chair of the committee She is the author of a number of responsa. Currently, she is working on an anthology of modern responsa for the Jewish Publication Society, and a volume on Jerusalem in the religious imagination of the Bible.)






Questions for Key Tavoh 5783 (Deuteronomy 26:1-27:10)


  1. What fruits are included in the opening commandment? Figs? Dates? Apples? Pomegranates?
  2. What percentage of the crop had to be brought?
  3. What were the boundaries for the commandment of the first fruits? Is this commandment still observed?
  4. Where do we encounter some of the statements made by the bearer of the first fruits? Why?
  5. Why doesn’t the statement mention the encounter at Sinai?
  6. Were there cheat sheets for those who couldn’t remember the formula or whose Hebrew was poor?
  7. Who received the special 3rd year tithe? Who benefited from this second tithe in years 1, 2, 4, and 5?
  8. Why the reference to depositing the first fruits with the dead? Did they get first dibs?
  9. What is the meaning of “A land flowing with milk and honey? Is the phrase ever used in the Bible outside of the Torah?
  10. Is 26:18 a source for the idea that Israel is the chosen people?
  11. Where else are there references to “the elders of Israel?”
  12. The text mandates the erection of large stones on which “all the words of this Teaching [Torah)” are to be written.  Where were the stones to be placed? How close was this location to the river Jordan? Were the stones erected by Joshua? (Compare with Joshua 24: 25-27.)
  13. Were the words etched on the stones or written over the plaster? What portion of the Torah was to be inscribed on these stones? The Rabbis suggest that the text was inscribed in 70 languages. What would have been the purpose of doing so?
  14. Why does the Samaritan Torah indicate that the altar and the stones were to be on Mount Gerizim and not Mount Ebal?
  15. How is the Shema similar to 27:9-10?


Questions for the Haftorah (Isaiah 60:1-22)


  1. The first verse appears in jumbled form in what Friday evening prayer?
  2. Was the third verse a stimulus for promoting conversion?
  3. The New Testament borrowed what imagery from verses 4 to 9?
  4. Where were Kedar and Nebiaoth located?
  5. What is the implication of having the gates open 24/7?
  6. Where else does the term “Mighty One of Jacob” appear?
  7. Is possession of the land dependent upon all of the people being righteous?



Sat, September 30 2023 15 Tishrei 5784